Damsons + sugar + cheap gin = heaven. Here’s how…
To be honest, there’s not a great deal of skill or magic to the process, such as it is.
First, wash a bunch of damsons and discard any dodgy fruit there and then. Prick the surface in a few places to help the fruitiness leach into the spirit, then place them in a suitable container. This is possibly the most important part of the whole affair: ensure the glassware is scrupulously clean as you would for jam-making. You wouldn’t want all that lovely liquor ruined by the careless inclusion of a few bacteria, would you?
Once you’ve filled the receptacle to a respectable level, add sugar. Damsons are reasonably sweet anyway, so I didn’t need to go overboard. I also elected to use fructose rather than cane sugar (thanks in part to Allegra McEvedy championing it in the Leon cookbook I’ve become a convert) so I could be less generous in the amounts required. I also made a batch of our old family favourite, sloe gin, this autumn; you need more sugar to take the edge off the severe bitterness of the these berries compared to the damsons.
After this, pour over the gin until everything is covered in liquid. No need to use a posh gin: any reasonable own-brand version will do as long as the botanicals mix isn’t too overwhelming. In this case I used a couple of bottles from Lidl. Once this is done, seal the container and carefully shake everyday until the sugar has dissolved. I kept mine under the stairs to maintain a relatively constant temperature and continued to tilt and swill the Kilner jar every few days.
I prepared this at the beginning of September, and kept the mix until mid-December when it was time to decant and bottle the ensuing goodness. Actually I have to admit that I did snaffle a few cheeky tastes before then: I was gobsmacked at how complex, warming, mature and more-able the spirit was after only a few weeks. The fruit macerates wonderfully, enfusing the liquid with a wonderful deep ruby colour and a slightly smokey, plummy richness, with just the merest hint of almonds from the fruit stones. The bottles make great presents… although it also highlights the fact the no matter how much you make, there’s never enough left. I endeavour to make gallons of the stuff in 2010 just to over-compensate.
Incidentally, I kept and froze the fruits once the drink itself was ready. They made an extraordinarily good alternative to cranberry sauce for Christmas dinner, softened and de-stoned in a pan with a slug of the damson gin and a few slices of tangerine. Tangy, bright, sweet and sour, with a rich boozy note in the background. Perfect to cut through the fattiness of the goose meat… but more about that in another post.